The contingency career

During 25 years of providing career planning support to the medical profession I have seen dozens of situations where a massive career crisis has brought someone to seek career guidance.

Career guidance should ideally be sought before a career crisis, not during it. The next best time is after it. Career crisis management is very different to career planning.

The trouble is that the state of mind within a career crisis or even with one imminent (i.e. less than six months away) is not conducive to undergoing the career guidance process.

In an ideal world I would always prefer to see someone 12-24 months prior to the possible crisis. Clearly this is not always feasible, as certain situations are out of one’s control and arise out of the blue.

If there is any degree of urgency to the career decision making process, the likelihood is that a crisis management approach will be more appropriate than career guidance. What this in turn means is that the first programme at Medical Forum is likely to be focused on immediate issues, and not on longer term personal development and career planning. Sometimes people feel short changed by this, in that they are likely to need to return for a repeat programme in a year or so. For this reason it is vital to establish the reasons why someone is joining the programme before they join it so as to ensure realistic expectations.

Career crises occur for all sorts of reasons:

  • Ill health
  • Stress or conflict at work
  • Performance issues
  • Medicolegal situations
  • Relocation
  • Marital break up
  • Child or elder care responsibilities
  • Redundancy
  • Early retirement
  • Insidious boredom to breaking point

As one is not in control of all life events, it is important to have what I call "contingency career plans" - a sort of Plan B, or even a Plan Z. This can be formulated whether or not a career is totally on track, but few take the trouble to do this.

It can be extremely reassuring to know that a contingency career plan is already waiting in the wings. And it means that if and when a crisis emerges, some ground work has already been done and one is not starting from scratch.

I have a hunch that merely having a contingency career plan prevents some career crises arising in the first place. If it’s never needed, then all well and good, where it can be consigned to the "maybe when I retire" file.

Sonia Hutton-Taylor

Dr Sonia Hutton-Taylor is the founder of Medical Forum Career Management and the author of an ebook Easy career change - good career choice.

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